Public prosecutor's grave abuse discretion in finding probable cause

FIRST DIVISION [ G.R. No. 230417, February 14, 2018 ] ENRIQUE A. HERNANDEZ AND MA. L.S. CONCEPCION J. HERNANDEZ V. OFFICE OF THE REGIONAL PROSECUTOR, REGION IV, SAN PABLO CITY-DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE AND RAMON L. MAYUGA.

This case stemmed from a criminal complaint[1] filed by Enrique A. Hernandez and Ma. L.S. Concepcion J. Hernandez (petitioners) against Ramon L. Mayuga (private respondent) for qualified trespass to dwelling, other forms of trespass, grave threat and unjust vexation or oral defamation.

In a Resolution[2] dated September 26, 2014, the Office of the City Prosecutor (OCP) of Sta. Rosa City, Laguna dismissed petitioners' claims that private respondent committed unjust vexation and qualified trespass to dwelling. It however, recommended the filing of an information for grave threats against private respondent. Despite petitioners' motion for reconsideration, the OCP in its Resolution[3] dated January 5, 2015, affirmed its September 26, 2014 Resolution.

Petitioners then brought the case to the Office of the Regional Prosecutor (ORP) to assail the dismissal of the charges of qualified trespass to dwelling, other forms of trespass, unjust vexation and oral defamation.

In a Resolution[4] dated June 6, 2016, the ORP dismissed the Petition for Review.

Failing in their motion for reconsideration,[5] petitioners brought the case to the CA via a Petition for Certiorari under Rule 65, docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 148005.

On October 28, 2016, the CA issued the first assailed Resolution,[6] which dismissed the petition for being an improper remedy. The CA ruled that petitioners should have first filed a petition for review before the Department of Justice. The CA also dismissed the petition on the ground that the attached OCP Resolutions dated November 4, 2014 and January 5, 2015 were blurred and unreadable.

Upon the denial of petitioners' motion for reconsideration,[7] they brought the instant petition before Us.Pending resolution of the case, the parties, on December 19, 2017, filed a Joint Motion for Leave to Withdraw Petition for Review on Certiorari.[8] They alleged that they have agreed to amicably settle their differences and have entered into a Compromise Agreement,[9] the contents of which are as follows:
COMPROMISE AGREEMENT

THE PARTIES, assisted by their respective counsels, respectfully manifests to the Honorable Court that they have amicably settled their dispute through and by way of this Compromise Agreement, and hereby agree as follows:
  1. The accused shall pay private complainants the sum of Seventy Five Thousand Pesos (P75,000.00) thru a check payable to the name of private complainant Enrique A. Hernandez which will be issued and delivered to him on or before December 20, 2017
  2. Likewise, [private respondent] shall issue a written public apology to private complainants for the incident on February 19, 2014 which resulted in the filing of the subject criminal case and other criminal cases (of Qualified Trespass to Dwelling/Other Forms of Trespass and Unjust Vexation/Oral Defamation) against [private respondent]. The said written public apology may be distributed by private complainats to the residents of Santarosa Estates Village.
  3. In return, on or before December 20, 2017, private complainants shall move in open court for the dismissal with prejudice of the instant criminal case. Likewise, within the same period, they shall file with the Supreme Court the pertinent Motion withdrawing their pending Petition for Review on Certiorari docketed therein as G.R. No. 230417 entitled "Enrique A. Hernandez and Ma. L.S. Concepcion J. Hernandez vs. Office of the Regional Prosecutor, Region IV, San Pablo City, Department of Justice and Ramon L. Mayuga", in which they assailed the dismissal of the other criminal cases cited in paragraph 2 hereof against [private respondent].
  4. The PARTIES hereby mutually and irrevocably renounce and waive any and all claims, demands, and causes of action of whatever kind and nature in connection with, or arising from, or in relation to, the subject matter of this Compromise Agreement, the instant criminal case and G.R. No. 230417.
  5. The PARTIES also hereby state and express, in clear and categorical terms, that this Compromise Agreement shall constitute a complete and full settlement of any and all claims of whatever kind and nature in connection with, or arising from, or in relation to, the subject matter of this Compromise Agreement, the instant criminal case and G.R. No. 230417.
  6. The PARTIES further state and express, in clear and categorical terms, that this Compromise Agreement shall be binding upon their respective spouses, assigns, heirs, successors-in-interest, representatives and (as may be applicable) their agents, attorneys-in-fact, attorneys and/or representatives in any capacity.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, the PARTIES have mutually and voluntarily signed this Compromise Agreement for the consideration and approval of the Honorable Court.

City of Sta. Rosa, December 11, 2017.
We cannot sanction the compromise agreement. The rule is settled that criminal liability cannot be a lawful subject of a compromise. The offended party in criminal cases is the People who cannot have criminal liability imposed by the law. And that explains why a compromise is not one of the grounds prescribed by the Revised Penal Code for the extinction of criminal liability.[10]

We now proceed with the determination of the merits of the petition.

In this petition, petitioners insist that they have exhausted administrative remedies when they obtained a final judgment from the Regional Prosecutor. Petitioner cites Republic Act No. 10071,[11] also known as the Prosecution Service Act of 2010, specifically Section 7(d), which specifically grants authority to Regional Prosecutor to resolve with finality petitions for review of judgments and orders of provincial and city prosecutors and their assistants where the offenses charged are cognizable by the first level courts.

Ruling of the Court

We grant the petition.

In Danilo Calivo Cariaga v. Emmanuel D. Sapigao and Ginalyn C. Acosta,[12] this Court already made a pronouncement as to the propriety of assailing the resolutions of the Regional State prosecutors before the courts. Similar to the factual circumstances in the case at bar, the appellate court dismissed the petition questioning the resolutions of the Regional Prosecutor, which dismissed the complaints for the crimes of Falsification of Public Documents, False Certification, and Slander by Deed. In that case, the CA ruled that a party agrieved by the resolution of the Regional State Prosecutor could still appeal an unfavorable ruling to the Secretary of Justice (SOJ). As such, direct and immediate recourse to the CA to assail the Regional Prosecutor's ruling, without first filing a petition for review before the SOJ, violated the principle of exhaustion of administrative remedies.

When the case reached this Court, We ruled that if the complaint is filed outside the National Capital Region (NCR) and is cognizable by the Metropolitan Trial Courts (MeTC), Municipal Trial Courts (MTC) and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts (MCTC), the ruling of the Provincial or City Prosecutor may be appealable by way of petition for review before the Regional Prosecutor, which ruling shall be with finality, and thus can then be elevated to the courts.

Specifically, this Court stated the rules on the appeal process in the National Prosecution Service (NPS):
(a) If the complaint is filed outside the NCR and is cognizable by the MTCs/MeTCs/MCTCs, the ruling of the OPP may be appealable by way of petition for review before the ORSP, which ruling shall be with finality;

(b) If the complaint is filed outside the NCR and is not cognizable by the MTCs/MeTCs/MCTCs, the ruling of the OPP may be appealable by way of petition for review before SOJ, which ruling shall be with finality;

(c) If the complaint is filed within the NCR and is cognizable by the MTCs/MeTCs/MCTCs, the ruling of the OCP may be appealable by way of petition for review before the Prosecutor General, whose ruling shall be with finality;

(d) If the complaint is filed within the NCR and is not cognizable by the MTCs/MeTCs/MCTCs, the ruling of the OCP may be appealable by way of petition for review before the SOJ, whose ruling shall be with finality;

(e) Provided, that in instances covered by (a) and (c ), the SOJ may, pursuant to his power of control and supervision over the entire National Prosecution Service, review, modify, or reverse the ruling of the ORSP or the Prosecutor General, as the case may be.[13]
Applying the foregoing rules in the instant case, We find that petitioners already exhausted the administrative remedies in the NPS, and thus the petition was properly brought before the CA. Petitioners filed a complaint before the Office of the City Prosecutor of Sta. Rosa City, outside of NCR. Petitioners accused private respondent of the crimes of qualified trespass to dwelling, other forms of trespass, grave threat and unjust vexation or oral defamation, all of which fall within the jurisdiction of the MTC.

Being a final determination of the executive branch of the government, the CA, instead of summarily dismissing the petition, should have made a determination as to the presence of grave abuse of discretion in the findings of the Regional Prosecutor. Such is within the purview of the court's power of judicial review. As aptly put by this Court in Aguilar vDepartment of Justice et al.: [14]
It is well-settled that courts of law are precluded from disturbing the findings of public prosecutors and the DOJ on the existence or non-existence of probable cause for the purpose of filing criminal informations, unless such findings are tainted with grave abuse of discretion, amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction. The rationale behind the general rule rests on the principle of separation of powers, dictating that the determination of probable cause for the purpose of indicting a suspect is properly an executive function; while the exception hinges on the limiting principle of checks and balances, whereby the judiciary, through a special civil action of certiorari, has been tasked by the present Constitution "to determine whether or not there has been a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of the Government."[15] (Emphasis in the original)
In this regard, jurisprudence teaches that grave abuse of discretion taints a public prosecutor's resolution if he arbitrarily disregards the jurisprudential parameters of probable cause.[16] Thus, in making his determination of probable cause, the public prosecutor should be satisfied that "the elements of the crime charged should, in all reasonable likelihood, be present. This is based on the principle that every crime is defined by its elements, without which there should be, at the most, no criminal offense."[17]

WHEREFORE, the Joint Motion for Leave to Withdraw Petition for Review on Certiorari is hereby DENIED. The attached compromise agreement is denied for being contrary to law.

In addition, the Petition is hereby GRANTED. The Resolutions dated October 28, 2016 and January 31, 2017 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 148005 are hereby SET ASIDE. Let this case be remanded to the Court of Appeals for further proceedings.

SO ORDERED.

[1] Rollo, pp. 51-52.

[2] Rendered by Associate City Prosecutor Rowena A. Malabanan-Galeon; id. at 132-137.

[3] Id. at 138-139.

[4] Rendered by Regional Prosecutor Ernesto C. Medoza; id. at 122-124.

[5] Id. at 96-102.

[6] Penned by Associate Justice Fernanda Lampas Peralta, concurred in by Associate Justices Jane Aurora C. Lantion and Nina G. Antonio-Valenzuela; id. at 21-22.

[7] Id. at 127-129.

[8] Id. at 183-185.

[9] Id. at 186-188.

[10] Trinidad v. Office of the Ombudsman, 564 Phil. 382, 391 (2007).

[11] AN ACT STRENGTHENING AND RATIONALIZED THE NATIONAL PROSECUTION SERVICE.

[12] G.R. No. 223844, June 28, 2017.

[13] Supra.

[14] 717 Phil. 789(2013).

[15] Id. at 799, citing Alberto, et al. v. CA, et al., 711 Phil. 530, 550-551 (2013).

[16] Hilbero v. Morales, Jr., G.R. No. 198760, January 11, 2017; Lim v. Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for the Military and Other Law Enforcement (MOLEO), G.R. No. 201320, September 14, 2016, 803 SCRA 91, 106-107.

[17] Hilbero v. Morales, Jr., supra, citing Reyes v. Pearlbank Securities, Inc., 582 Phil. 505 (2008).

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